Coffee and Cigarettes

Last Updated: August 10, 2011By Tags: , ,

In “Delirium,” one of the shorts in Jim Jarmush’s “Coffee and Cigarettes” (2003) GZA and RZA, two members from the rap group Wu-Tang are sitting at a table in a diner, presumably late at night in some place urbanized and dreary—the entire film, in fact, seems to exist against a similar backdrop. GZA proclaims the benefits of drinking tea and avoidance of coffee and goes into an edifying rant about virtuous living, in a way-of-the-samurai-style lingo. For those who know a little about Staten-Island-based Wu-Tang, a spiritually-rich existence plied with copious amounts of martial arts is the sort of life they seek. Director Jarmush, who’s had close associations with Wu-Tang (he previously wrote and directed Ghost Dog (1999) with RZA on soundtrack duties; the narrative of Ghost Dog is peppered with references to Wu-Tang trivia, in fact) gives both men the leeway to contend for themselves.

Enter Bill Murray. Who better to counter the two men’s holier-than-thou rant than the unabatedly self-deprecating Bill Murray? Murray is the epitome of the self-sufficient prankster: he needs neither audience nor sidekick to get himself embroiled in funny happenstance. A noteworthy point about this short is its lack of groundedness; the director’s presumed objective to devolve realism to an ordinary conversation between three men is subjugated by the ET-like quality of Murray’s character; he’s a friendly, though weird being from outer space who got beamed down back of the diner while the two men debate together. The fascinating thing about Murray’s form as actor, however, is that he embodies middle-age cognizance with dazed detachment: the effect he has on the two men is one of amused bewilderment, a reaction which fuels the dynamic: Murray’s cobbling incoherent concepts like no other compels the GZA and the RZA to ask for more morsels of hooey. This is probably one of the strongest shorts in Jim Jarmush’s “Coffee & Cigarettes”; nothing seems de trop. The randomness of the encounter between the Wu-Tang Clan and a very white Bill Murray, an out-of-the-way diner with apparently no other customers; the situation is pregnant with contradictions and possibility. I’m guesstimating this short clocked in at around 13 or 15 minutes; there’s enough potential material to extend this two-fold.

One Comment

  1. Anonymous March 29, 2007 at 5:19 pm

    This is my favorite film. thanks for your post; some of the sketches are weaker than others, but Jarmush was in fine shape that day.

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